A couple weekends back, as Jim and I were registering for a coin show, I was
slightly startled to see a copy of my novel Child of a Rainless Year looking up at me from the table. Then enlightenment hit. We were meeting our friend, Michael Wester. Michael is very fond of this particular novel and often brings copies for me to sign so he can give them to various people.
Me to Jim: Ah! Michael must be here. I thought I’d seen him ahead of us.
Coin Show Official (not quite catching what I was saying): Someone left a book here.
Me: Probably a friend of ours. I wrote that book.
CSO (interested but obviously confused, for good reason): I think someone left this book.
Me: Yes. I think a friend of ours did. I wrote that book. He really likes it.
CSO: Oh! You really wrote it?
Me (reaching for wallet): I did. Want to see my ID?
CSO: That’s really neat. I don’t meet many authors. [Pauses to look at cover with expression of mild regret.] I wouldn’t have read this one. I don’t read this stuff.
Me: What do you read?
CSO: Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Me: This is Fantasy. It’s set here in New Mexico.
CSO (looking newly interested): Oh! I thought it was a romance novel.
Well, about that time Michael showed up, reclaimed his book, and, after exchanging a few more words with the CSO, we wandered off. (Jim and Michael both collect coins. I just go along to hang out with them.)
However, I couldn’t quite let go of that conversation. It haunted me through the following week. I found myself wondering how many potential readers – even those who already liked some aspect of my books – hadn’t picked up the novel because the cover made it seem as if I’d wandered somewhere they didn’t want to go.
Certainly, the jacket copy for the hardcover edition didn’t help. It begins with the killer word “middle-aged” and doesn’t really get provocative until the end of the second paragraph with the line “…as a condition of being allowed to adopt her, Mira’s foster parents had agreed to change their names, move to another state, and never ask why.”
The cover for the paperback did a lot better. It opens with “Art teacher Mira Fenn’s life was curiously lacking in color until the day she learned of a mysterious inheritance from her birthmother…” Still, to get to that point, the reader would need to not be turned away by the cover art. (I should note that the novel also came out in trade paperback, but for reasons of sanity I’m not going to get into the variations on that cover.)
And, especially for this novel, it is very odd cover art indeed. In some senses, it provides a perfectly accurate representation of the opening scene. However, for a book that has as its opening line “Color is the great magic,” it is remarkably drab. The dominant shades are muddy blues and browns. The only flash of brilliant color – a red shawl – is occluded by the title (and on the paperback the title and the author’s name).
It’s a fine painting. It’s an accurate illustration. However, to me, it says nothing at all about the book. And, yeah, I don’t blame the Coin Show Official for thinking it was a romance novel. I’d go even further and say an old-fashioned romance novel.
On the mass market edition, the background parts of the cover are done in tannish-orange stripes – not distinct stripes, like those on a zebra or tiger, but muted stripes that blend into mud. The text fades into this, so the wonderful review quote from Library Journal, a quote that might let the reader know this isn’t a romance novel, is nearly unreadable.
Let me share what Library Journal said with you: “A tale of the Southwest filled with memorable characters, brilliant splashes of color, and, at the forefront, an unforgettable woman imbued with a desire to know the truth about her heritage. Lovers of magical realism should relish this powerfully written tale of art and life.”
I know from other comments to these wanderings that Child of a Rainless Year has found enthusiastic readers despite the cover. However, I’m curious…
Did the cover draw you in or push you away? If you didn’t know my work, would you think “romance novel”? If you were to put a new cover on the book, what would you choose? Let your imaginations run wild!